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Criminal – Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel

By: South Carolina Lawyers Weekly staff//February 20, 2020//

Criminal – Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel

By: South Carolina Lawyers Weekly staff//February 20, 2020//

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A habeas court found the defendant’s counsel rendered ineffective assistance by misadvising him during plea negotiations, but this finding was improperly ignored by later reviewing courts. The case was remanded with instructions to grant the habeas petition.


Shane Monroe Dodson appeals from the district court’s judgment denying his petition for habeas corpus relief brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he raised a single claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Dodson argues on appeal that the district court erroneously adopted factual findings made by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (the state supreme court), which were directly contrary to the findings made by the state habeas court. As found by the state habeas court, Dodson argues that his counsel misadvised him during the plea negotiating process, because counsel was unaware of the elements of the burglary offense of which Dodson was convicted.

Dodson asserts that based on his counsel’s misunderstanding of the law, counsel advised Dodson not to plead guilty and to decline the State of West Virginia’s offer to recommend as part of a plea bargain a sentence of one to 10 years’ imprisonment. After declining the state’s plea offer, Dodson was convicted at trial and sentenced to serve a mandatory term of life imprisonment.

Dodson later filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the state habeas court. That court granted the petition, holding under the two-prong test of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), that Dodson had been denied the effective assistance of counsel. On appeal, the state supreme court reversed the habeas court’s judgment, concluding that Dodson’s decision to reject the state’s plea offer was not based on counsel’s advice but was motivated instead by Dodson’s belief that he would be exonerated at trial.

After Dodson filed the present federal habeas petition, the district court deferred to the state supreme court’s decision under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, or AEDPA, and denied Dodson’s request for habeas corpus relief.


Dodson argues that the district court erred in deferring to the state supreme court’s decision, because Dodson established that the state supreme court’s conclusion was not entitled to AEDPA deference under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Thus, according to Dodson, we may consider his habeas corpus petition under a de novo standard of review allowing us to assign significant weight to the state habeas court’s credibility findings.

In response, the state argues that the state supreme court’s decision denying habeas corpus relief properly was afforded great deference by the district court in accordance with AEDPA, because the state supreme court’s factual determinations were not unreasonable and did not result in an unreasonable application of federal law. We disagree with the state’s arguments.

We conclude that AEDPA deference does not apply because the state supreme court committed two foundational errors, namely, that the court (1) made an unreasonable factual determination, which led to (2) its unreasonable application of federal law. Upon concluding that AEDPA deference is inapplicable, we now examine Dodson’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim de novo.

We conclude that Dodson’s attorney (Sherman Lambert) rendered deficient performance when he misadvised Dodson about the elements of the statutory burglary offense and the strength of Dodson’s case, and that Dodson suffered prejudice in relying on counsel’s advice to reject the state’s plea offer. Therefore, we hold that Dodson received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel and is entitled to habeas corpus relief.

We vacate the district court’s judgment, and remand the case to the district court with instructions to grant conditionally Dodson’s petition for habeas corpus. The district court is directed to inform the State of West Virginia that it will be afforded 90 days to decide whether to reinstate its previous plea offer to Dodson in exchange for his guilty plea. If the state declines to reinstate its previous plea offer, the district court shall grant Dodson’s petition for habeas corpus relief.

Vacated and remanded with instructions.

Dodson v. Ballard (Barbara Milano Keenan, J.) Case No. 18-6465. Jan. 22, 2020. From N.D. W.Va. (Frederick Pfarr Stamp Jr., J.) Lyle David Kossis for Appellant, Lindsay Sara See for Appellee. 21 pp.


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